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Friday, 3 October 2008

Juggling cats

Those of you with long memories may remember a photo illustrating the rear of Large Villas. I t looked like this :

The white monstrosity to the rear is a badly built, damp, leaking extension. The image showing the washing machine is the interior of said carbuncle, but fortunately, 'Smellorama' has not yet been devised for the web, so the image does not do full justice to the unmistakeable aroma of damp that oozed from the thing. Two and a half months on, and the rear of the property now looks like this;

On a first glance, I can hear the cries of 'Hurrah' resounding round the world - from Glossop to Nova Scotia, from Liverpool to Ireland, and, perhaps the greatest distance of all, from Ontario to anywhere else. Perhaps people may crack open a bottle as we did, "Cheers", they may toast "The horrible extension has gone. Now, a thing of beauty can replace it??? Tis just a matter of removing the concrete base, and a georgeous construction can follow. Wowzah" they may continue " I can just picture meself sitting a beautiful warm new kitchen, well insulated, (constructed in accordance with strict environmental principals), under a living roof, enjoying my morning coffee. The aroma of warm croissants tickles my senses, and bread is baking in the carbon neutral oven as I recline in a Fairtrade armchair with a soft light massaging my skin. It's breakfast and all is well with the world in this oasis - birds sing, gentle wind chimes chime and I can see cats playfully dismembering mice in the beautiful garden through the French Doors leading to this Eden".

But despite this idyllic mental percept, all is not well in the state of Hull. The image, sadly, deceives because the minor detail of the base remains. As in the battle for meaningless Pacific Islands in '44 and '45, assaults on this cursed foundation have been mounted and repelled. Everything has been tried. Better men than you or I have foundered on its rocky shores, cats have been neglected and bad words have been uttered as we have struggled in vain to rid ourselves of the solidest block of concrete this side of the uncomfortably close French Nuclear power plants. It has been a war of attrition and has in fact broken Cheap Steve and Neil.

The job started well. When I mentioned to Cheap Steve, our building rubble removal expert that I wanted to get shut of the extension, Steve saw an opportunity for both profit and fun - no bad combination. We have, to date, removed about eight tons of debris from the building, from various chimney breasts that were incorrectly sealed, to plaster that had to be removed so we could insulate, to mounds of concrete from underneath some of the ground floor, to ceilings that had to be replaced. In all cases so far, I have done the 'graft' myself, dumped the debris in the back yard and called Steve so he can take it away. The extension though, is a bridge too far as solo projects go, so I asked Steve if he was interested in coming on board for the project.

We completed the first phase in two days of coarse jokes and tales of very different lives swapped. Cheap Steve and his boys are tough - tattoed, scarred and physical. They do not stop, ignored all the dust masks, eye protection and ear defenders I had bought for them and just went at the thing like it was a personal mission. I was seriously impressed, and a rapport was established. As day faded to dusk we contemplated the base.

"Do you guys want to come back and get rid of that ?" I asked Steve.

Next day, a pneumatic drill was delivered and, spirits riding high, we attacked the base. After about an hour, Steve looked worried. We had given ourselves a day to break the thing up, and half a day to remove the debris. The base was hardly touched. Steve made a phone call and at noon a bigger jack hammer turned up.

"This'll do the job" Steve noted.

We stopped for coffee at two pm. The bigger drill had not even scratched the concrete. Steve made another phone call and at three pm 'H' turned up. 'H's day with his regular employer had just finished and he was here as favour. 'H' regular job is to build motorways and he parked his truck outside our front door, fired up the biggest mobile generator I have ever seen and set about the base with his jack hammer, a tool that was normally used to demolish airport runways. AT five, fingers jingling with vibration, 'H' quit for the day having chipped two small pieces of stone from the base in two hours. We now had two jackhammers, clouds of dust and a conglomeration of the loudest noises I have ever heard attacking our Everest.

After the crew had left I examined the base. There is six inches of concrete. Under that there is metal reinforcing rods, called Rebar in North America. The another six inches of concrete. Then, more Rebar. Then a foot of concrete. Next day, Steve called me

"We wont be able to make it today, Mart. Got a small shed in Beverley to empty."

Enquiries about when Steve might be free reveal that he is suddenly hit with a glut of children's playrooms, garden sheds and garages to clear. He signs off with a slightly regretful "I'll call you when we're free, Scouse" that tells me the base has been, at least for him, a bridge too far.

Elsewhere, renovations are going well. RHB is still tiling, and is now a dab hand, demonstrating a steady hand and a keen eye. The bathroom floor that I represented so badly, has been ordered and Chris Phillips, our friend from the old Liverpool days (incredibly almost thirty years ago now) is coming next weekend to lend her incredible artistic talents to the mosaics and the floor we have planned for the bathrooms. RHB, heroically, comes to site most days after work and stays for more than a couple of hours, tiling, stripping paint, planning, and designing and six pm is, daily, a welcome time for me when she shows up.

Elsewhere, more original art is planned, as a photographer friend has promised two original prints for the house. Although the pictures still show a shell, the reality is that our idea for the place is coming together, and it is very exciting.

As I consider where we are, I realize that my often jocular comment that RHB and I are "Quite mad" is both entirely accurate and, if anything, a serious understatement. This has been, and remains a massive project, and reviewing the pictures for tonight's post, a lot has been accomplished in ten weeks.

Downstairs the floors on the ground floor have been torn out and replaced. The photo is out of date because the floor shown has now been completely replaced, and insulated, but the lower gropund floors are now in fact beautiful. Not because they are finished ( the bamboo is ordered, but on hold), but because I have reconstructed them the way I always wanted to do a floor. Effectively, our ground floors are now a six inch deep heat sink. This means that no heat will flow out, or incidentally in, and yet the floors have room to 'breathe'. Walking on the floors is a great experience - they feel immensely solid, yet not rigid like concrete. It is actually quite strange, because until I (re)built the things in this manner, it was only something I had read about as I have chosen a quite unusual method of construction. It is as if the floors are a plywood sandwich, with a layer of plywood top and bottom, and six inches of insulation inbetween.

As we move into October, the schedule gets more complicated as I start University. Balances between rent paid and mortgage owing become more important, as we had budgeted for a specific period of paying both. That period will be up in three weeks. More importantly, perhaps, the cats are showing signs of abandonment as we spend more and more time at the new house. We try to shuffle our schedule so that at least one person is home with the cats for a reasonable period each evening. I am quite aware that for most people, with what we have at stake, cats would be the last thing on their mind, but I am sentimental old bugger and Toshack, particularly, doesn'y understand why games have become thin on the ground recently. All his favourites, 'Pounce', 'Chase', 'Swipe', 'Hide' have become infrequent recently, and I feel guilty. I know that time must be made for the little guy. As I mentioned earlier, we are both "Quite, quite mad".


JoeyMac said...

A cat's attention span can be a blessing and a curse. They are annoyed now, but will forget all about it when they start walking on their nice heat sink floors. (PS. I assume that heat sink technique only works on ground floors?)
As for the concrete jungle, have you considered painting it and calling it a floor art piece? :)

MJN said...

THe heat sink idea cold work anywhere really - it is a bit misleading to say heat sink really. Basically it is just a great big insulation sandwich.

In principle, it could be used anywhere - indeed some people follow the concept of insulating every space in an area - for example every room in a house, and then doing zonal heating. However, in rooms that are not used often, this can be a problem as we all know that temp differentials lead to draughts and damp, so I am tryng to follow the concept of insulating the whole space very very well then just using solar to heat it. Should work.

I have considered dynamite on the concretion:)

JoeyMac said...

The concretion? Uh oh. You know if you name it, you will start getting attched to it... :)

Grasshopper said...

Well, I suppose you are a bit mad for worrying about the treatment of your cats while you're in the midst of starting classes and renovating. But then, isn't Callie - when you figure out the $ put into her - more expensive than the renovation?! In that case, it makes good financial sense to make sure that you attend to her!